PH envoy says diplomats in search of VFA replacement acceptable to Duterte
MANILA, Philippines — Top Philippine and US diplomats are in search of ways to replace the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with a new deal that would have similar features but not run counter to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s thinking on “sovereignty issues.”
Philippine Ambassador to United States Jose Manuel Romualdez said on Friday (Feb. 27) that talks are ongoing to “come up with something.”
Although Duterte appeared to be bent on trashing the VFA, Romualdez said “from what I’m told, the door is not totally shut.”
“We are now in the process of trying to find ways and means to be able to see how we can either come up with something similar, perhaps, again, still following the President’s thinking about the sovereignty issue,” he said at a forum on VFA in Makati City.
He said diplomats are looking at current agreements with Japan and Australia as a possible template of the new deal to replace the VFA.
“The Japan SOFA (status of forces agreement) is one of those recommended for study and also I think we have this visiting forces agreement with Australia,” he said.
His counterpart, US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim, is currently in Washington, looking for ways on how to move forward the relationship of both countries.
“He’s doing my job in Washington and I’m doing his job here. It’s working quite well for us and we’ve been talking almost everyday,” Romualdez said.
The potential new deal would be later presented to Duterte.
Washington earlier this month received Manila’s formal notice of its intent to terminate the VFA, which governed mechanisms for visiting American soldiers and served as foundation for military exercises and humanitarian work by US troops in the Philippines. The termination would take effect after six months, or 180 days.
Duterte ordered the termination of the VFA in apparent retaliation for the cancellation of the US visa of one of his closest political allies, Sen. Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa, who was also the first enforcer of the President’s bloody war on drugs.
But the President said one of the other reasons why he cancelled the VFA was Washington’s meddling in local politics, particularly in the case of detained Sen. Leila de Lima.
Romualdez said that he had warned American lawmakers last year of “serious consequences” if they continued interfering in De Lima’s case.
“And we all know what happened after the resolution went through, and so forth and so on. So that is why we’re now where we are today in the termination of the VFA,” he said.
While it is an important agreement, he said the VFA is “not really the end all and be all” of Philippine-US relationships and he believed the alliance will continue for a long time.
“I think there are many other relationships that we can work on outside of this VFA again,” he said.
“The VFA is something that obviously we have to still try to see where it can be polished, or sort of like improve,” the ambassador said.
The US, he said, is not a country that the Philippines can just ignore.
“I think anyone, any country around the world will agree that the United States is a major country that no one can ignore, including China,” he said.
Edited by TSB
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